An Interview with Jack Bedwani, Global CEO the projects*

Lara Vandenberg

Jack has spent his 15 year career keenly interested in the influence that brilliantly creative people hold and how they use it. He founded the projects* in 2008 in Sydney Australia as a reaction to the evolving need to more integrated culturally led experiential projects down under. the projects* is now a globally established cultural consultancy that has offices in Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam and New York and the business has become a vehicle for Jack’s creative exploration of global cultural shifts and movements. With a mission to be active participants in the creation of popular culture, Jack bring this ethos to everything he and the projects* do. They proudly pioneer the translation of cultural trends and movements into experiences, content and communities, and inspire people to have genuine brand love for genuinely lovable brands. Before founding the projects* Jack championed the expansion of the international Fashion Week format, as executive producer for a series of high profile runway events in Singapore, Hong Kong, Berlin, New York , Dubai, Melbourne and Sydney.

TS: the projects* is now in its twelfth year, across three continents. First of all congratulations. Second of all, how has the agency changed since launch in 2008? In every way imaginable. The agency has expanded into 4 countries and 5 cities globally over that time, and all of the growth has been completely organic. To this day we do not have a cent of debt or any investment. To succeed and continue to grow in this industry we’ve had to move at the speed of culture. Our product offering has had to evolve to meet the needs of our global client base, our internal processes have needed to develop to keep up with the growing scale of the business. Ultimately clients come to us because we help them to understand and navigate the changing cultural and creative landscape. To ensure we are able to make good on this promise we have to focus on maintaining our agility and stay on our edge.

TS: Naturally, your role must have evolved quite significantly with growing and scaling an international agency. How do you break-down your role? I like to say that this business has been my greatest teacher because over the last decade as the business has changed I’ve had to adapt and grow to ensure we can maintain our trajectory. My background was in the production of large scale fashion events globally before starting the projects*, so in the early years my role was very much the creative and production lead within the business. As we scaled internationally I moved more into a business development role and over the last few years more into a global CEO. Today I’m focused on the paving the long term vision for the business and establishing the plan that will best put us on the path towards our vision. I’m increasingly focused on bringing our offices and teams closer together to share knowledge, experience and IP within the business as I believe strongly in the notion of the projects* functioning as one company with four outposts, and not 5 siloed businesses operating in separately from each other. New business development is still a key part of my role however today this is focused on clients that have needs across multiple markets.

TS: Was there a turning point for the business, perhaps the signing of a major brand or some other development, which brought you to the top agency standing you have today? I actually think the tipping point for us was opening our New York Headquarters. Previously I’d been based in LA and as we looked for ways to expedite our growth we realized that 70%+ of our revenue was coming from clients based in New York. So we took a punt and launched a ‘pop up office’ here in NY over the summer of 2017. Our pop up office aligned with a series of client projects we had taking place on the east coast so it felt genuine, and it meant that if we decided NY wasn’t right for us we could keep trading from LA as ‘pop ups never last forever’. Turns out our NY the pop up never closed and 3 years later New York has become our global headquarters. 

TS: You have a highly curated client list. How do you decide whom to work with? Are there any common characteristics that your clients share? A few years ago as we started to build momentum and go after larger accounts we felt it was important to do the brand work that we encourage our clients to do, for ourselves. So we set out on a process to identify our superpowers and ensure that all our communications layered into what made us unique and different. This helped us to naturally curate our client list as we started to really understand why our best clients loved us. Our superpower is our deep knowledge and understanding of the every changing tides of popular culture. We go deep on the things that others don’t pay much attention to, and this enables us to conceive creative ideas that speak to people on a human level. Our clients today are all wanting to actively participate in and contribute to popular culture. We do it in very different way for each, but that curiosity and appreciation for the way the culture is a reflection of what’s in the hearts and minds of customers is certainly something that we all share. 

TS: Can you point to a product or project your proudest of? Our business has three pillars of service. We offer marketing consulting and help brands to understand the needs and wants of people and show how the culture is a reflection of peoples particular needs and wants. In a way it’s the first part of our process. We then have a production department that focuses on experiential and content campaigns. Many of these projects come through consulting who essentially establish a brief for the experiential or content teams to execute. Lastly we have a talent buying and contracting department who specialize in creative mutually beneficial brand deals with talent without the inflated price tags a lot of brands receive. We started as an experiential agency and the other parts of the business have evolved organically as we’ve understood where our strengths lay and where we saw opportunities in the market. I’m most proud of the way we’ve been able to grow and evolve the businesses offering to meet the changing needs of our clients. 

TS: In a time of huge flux in the industry, where are you focusing your agency’s efforts in terms of day-to-day work? Is the brief from clients evolving rapidly with this change, or to what extent has it remained similar to the past? COVID-19 has well and truly turned the world upside down. I don’t think we have one client that has not felt the effects of this global pandemic. Within the span of about 3 days we saw over 2M of revenue either cancel or postpone, and that was just Q2! As I write this on the 1st April 2020, a lot of my industry peers are bunkering down, laying off staff, holding their breath and waiting for this to pass and for the world to return ‘back to normal’. I am not. I don’t think the world will ‘return to normal’. Instead I believe when we come out the other side of this there will be a very different ‘new normal’. What that new normal looks like is a conversation we are having with clients every day at the moment. I’m predicting that we’ll see greater need for adaptation, intimacy and immediacy in our world. Even when all the government restrictions are lifted and the restaurants and retails stores re open, there is going to be a lot of nervousness in the hearts and minds of customers. We need to be planning for their shifts in behaviors, needs and wants now.

TS: How are you evolving the agency into the future, with the increasingly influencer, content and digital media landscape? We are always keenly interested in the ripples in culture that become waves overtime. Right now we are tracking the intimacy and access platforms like Zoom and House Party are allowing people to stay connected during a global pandemic. I can literally leave a House Party with all of my family in Australia and drop into a live stream DJ set from Questlove, live from his living-room in Brooklyn in a matter of seconds. Whilst we are isolated in our homes, the ways in which we are seeking out and enabling connection is fascinating. Our entire industry needs to evolve in-line with how human behaviors are changing and I’m challenging my teams to conceive concepts for our clients that tap into these new paradigms for how we are sharing experiences and ideas across the globe. There is lots of space for brands to have positive impact in this time, it’s all about positive contribution, and not just trying to sell a production. Those days are over. 

TS: Can you highlight a few key pitfalls you’d advise against in creating a thriving business? Any tips for success? My background was as a global event producer before I launched my own agency. Naturally I was fond of doing the tasks that I was good at and the net result was that for many years I held on to tight to the work product. Certainly more than I should have. Quality control is important in any business, however the lesson for me was to clearly understand the difference between working on the business and in the business. You need talented and skilled people working on both sides of the business, and generally in creative fields everyone wants to work on the fun stuff. It’s also easier to find those who excel at the work product. I was to focused on working in the business and didn’t put enough energy and focus into working on the business. On business development, on the businesses financial health, on recruitment, on building the businesses profile in the market and on future proofing our business against an ever changing marketing landscape. Once I connected with this learning I was able to draw clearer lines of expectation and accountability for my team. They knew the work was theirs to own, and whilst I always get final sign off before anything goes out the door. I’m not there to sit with them through the process. 

TS: What are some of the biggest changes you predict for the industry in the next 5-10 years? Attention is the holy grail of the 2020’s. How do you get people’s attention? How do you keep it and fundamentally how do you get people to care? I think the attention economy is only going to increase in value over the next decade. The methods we use to capture people’s attention will continue to change and evolve. If you zoom out there are some fundamental truths that I think will remain steadfast.

  • Great story telling will always capture peoples attention, 

  • Vulnerability and intimacy are basic human desires that produce real connection,

  • Most people need to be associated with something other than themselves to feel whole. 

To succeed as the rules, platforms and norms of our industry continue to change, marketeers and brands must go beyond product and represent something that is human, that is relatable, and something that is part of a bigger cultural conversation.